The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that there are now 6,132 farmers markets in the country, up 16 percent from last year and a stunning 214 percent increase since 2000.
The press release contained some even more interesting numbers. While mild-weathered, agriculturally diverse California had by far the most farmers markets (580), New York was not far behind (461), and Nos. 3 and 4 were somewhat surprising: Illinois (286) and Michigan (271). And the rest of the Midwest is working on catching up: the top states for percentage growth in the number of markets from 2009 to 2010 were Missouri (77 percent), Minnesota (61), and Idaho and Michigan (both 60 percent).
While less then a sixth of the markets, or 886, are open year-round, there are such four-season markets in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Photo: Bonnie PowellYou can find a market near you via the Eat Well Guide, LocalHarvest, or USDA. And if there isn’t one? The USDA has guides for how to start a farmers market, for the truly ambitious. Lazier folks can just join me in my wok-on-the-wild-side challenge in honor of National Farmers Market Week this week.
Because while these numbers are encouraging, direct-to-consumer food sales — which include not only farmers markets, but also farm stands and U-pick operations — were only 0.4 percent of the total food economy last year. Local food has a long way to go before Safeway feels any pain.